A Houston man has been taken into federal custody and charged in an alleged plot to destroy a Confederate statue in Hermann Park, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced early Monday afternoon.
Andrew Cecil Schneck, 25, has been charged with "attempting to maliciously damage or destroy property receiving federal financial assistance" after a park ranger saw him hiding in the bushes near the General Richard Dowling monument, preparing to detonate an explosive, the authorities said. The statue of Dowling, a Houstonian who served as a Confederate officer during the Civil War, is one of hundreds of monuments to the Confederacy that have come under increased scrutiny after a white supremacist rally in Virginia supporting such memorials became violent.
On Saturday evening, hours after hundreds protested in downtown Houston against the city's Confederate statues, the park ranger found Schneck at the foot of the statue, "among the bushes," holding several small boxes including what appeared to be duct tape and wires, court documents state. When the ranger confronted Schneck, he told Schneck to place the boxes on the ground. Schneck then took a drink from a plastic bottle he was holding and immediately spit it out, according to the complaint. After noticing a timer in one of Schneck's boxes, the ranger called police.
Turns out, the liquid Schneck tried to drink field tested positive as nitroglycerin, said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Abe Martinez. A second substance, a white powder found in a small black aluminum tube, tested positive for Hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, a chemical used to initiate explosions.
Prosecutors noted that nitroglycerin is one of the world's most powerful explosives, and said investigators believe the materials Schneck brought to the statue "were capable to produce a viable explosive device."
The Houston Police Department and FBI swarmed Scheck's home in Rice Village, at 2025 Albans, on Sunday and continued the raid into Monday afternoon, saying they had found hazardous materials inside. Neighbors along Albans were asked to evacuate for safety reasons, police said. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Scheck had been conducting "chemistry experiments" inside his parents' $2.1 million home.
"Some very hazardous materials were found in it, and we are in the process of mitigating that and removing those materials in a manner that doesn't jeopardize the public and keeps every one safe," said Larry Satterwhite, assistant chief of homeland security for the Houston Police Department.
This is not Schneck's first brush with federal authorities over explosive materials. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to a single count of knowingly storing high explosives in an illegal manner by keeping picric acid, a common ingredient in many explosives, at what was then his parents' home on Fall River Road.
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Schneck was sentenced to five years probation, but a judge cut the sentence short just two years later, in 2016. In a motion arguing for early termination of his client's supervised release, Schneck's lawyer, Philip Hilder, argued Schneck had been "of exemplary character" since his arrest. Plus, Hilder said Schneck had committed no new crimes and had completed his financial obligations (he had been ordered to pay $159,000 to agencies that had spent resources investigating his case, including the FBI and Houston Fire Department.)
"Over the term of his supervised release, Schneck has matured and his focus is no longer concentrated on high-risk activities," Hilder wrote. Later, he added, "Schneck is not a risk to public safety nor is there a history of violence."
Schneck's lawyer said his client devoted himself to education, and earned a bachelor's degree from Austin college. His major, along with Classics?